Tips on caring for jewellery

Careful cleaning and caring for your jewellery means you will enjoy its beauty for ever. Courtesy of Omi Privé.

Jewellery is one of our most intimate and cherished accessories. Understanding how to care for and protect your treasured jewellery can make a world of difference to maintaining its beauty and keeping your heirlooms sparkling for generations to come.

Be careful with light and heat

Just as the sun’s harmful rays can damage our skin, light and heat can affect a coloured gemstone’s durability and colour. Over time, and in excess, they can also fade or damage some gemstones, such as amethyst, kunzite, topaz and shell cameos. Pearls and other delicate materials, such as ivory, will bleach under extreme exposure to light. Other gems, especially amber, can darken over time when exposed to too much light.

Vintage jewellery, such as this French 18K yellow gold and diamond feather brooch, circa 1860, should be handled delicately and can be cleaned with just water and a soft, lint-free cloth. Photo by David Behl, © Janet Mavec & GIA.

Excessive heat and sudden temperature changes may also fracture some gems. Heat can easily remove the natural moisture these gems need to keep their beauty. Pearls, for instance, can dry out, crack and discolour. Opals can turn white or brown, develop tiny cracks, and might lose their play-of-colour.

Keep your jewellery away from chemicals

Exposure to chemicals can damage or discolour precious metals – gold, silver and platinum – and may harm some coloured gems. Even everyday substances like hairspray, lotion, perfume or other cosmetics can contain chemicals that will permanently damage the surface of your pearls and other delicate or porous gems (like turquoise). Fine jewellery should be removed before diving into a chlorinated swimming pool or using household cleaners. Many of these cleaners contain ammonia, which can be too harsh for delicate gems or vintage jewellery. Chlorine bleach, another common household solvent, can pit or damage gold alloys.

Give treated gems special care

Many coloured gemstones are routinely treated to improve the appearance of colour and clarity. These treatments can be negatively affected by heat, solvents, steam and ultrasonic cleaners. Knowing whether your gem has been treated is the first step to knowing how to care for it. This is where a GIA report comes in – it contains important information about your gem and any detectable treatments it may have undergone.

Use Ultrasonic Cleaners With Caution

While you can purchase a professional ultrasonic cleaner for $150 (£90) or less, you should be aware that not all gems and jewellery can be safely cleaned in it.

Ultrasonic cleaners should not be used to clean:

  • Gemstones with surface-reaching breaks that have been filled with a substance such as oil, resin or a glass-like material
  • Organic gem materials such as pearls, coral, ivory or amber
  • Gems that have been coated with a non-permanent substance like plastic or wax
  • Some heat-treated gemstones
  • Gems that are susceptible to heat and temperature changes whether they are treated or not. Some of these gems include tanzanite, feldspar (sunstone and moonstone), fluorite, iolitekunzitelapis lazuli, malachite, opaltopazturquoise and zircon, among others

What’s more, the vibration generated by the machine can sometimes shake gems loose or chip gems that are set with their girdles touching.

This type of cleaning is best left to jewellery professionals who know about different gem materials and understand when and how to use the ultrasonic cleaner safely.

The safest cleaning methods are also the easiest

Most coloured gems can be cleaned with warm water, mild dish soap (no detergents) and a soft brush. A pulsed-water dental cleaning appliance and a soft, lint-free cloth can also be used. Be sure to rinse your jewellery in a glass of water to remove cleaning solutions since you risk losing loose stones – or even an entire piece of jewellery - if you rinse directly in the sink.

Soft gems, such as pearls, on the other hand, can easily scratch. Use a new, clean makeup brush and warm, soapy water to softly clean them. Lay a strand of pearls on a towel to dry. The wet silk thread can stretch − and attract dirt − so don’t touch your strand until it is completely dry. Pearls worn often should be restrung once a year.

Pearl earrings, such as these American 14K gold, diamond and cultured pearl earrings, should be cleaned using an unused make-up brush and warm, soapy water. Photo by David Behl, © Janet Mavec & GIA.

Safely store your jewellery

Appropriate jewellery storage is often overlooked. Jewellery should never be thrown into a drawer or left on top of a dressing table − that’s asking for scratches and damaged gems.

Most pieces of jewellery come in a box or pouch from the shop, which is a perfect place to keep them. Sterling silver, for example, should be kept in an anti-tarnish bag or cloth. Jewellery boxes that feature individually padded slots for rings and posts for hanging necklaces and bracelets are also ideal.

Each container can hold one type of jewellery − earrings, rings, necklaces, bracelets and watches. Keeping like items together is practical to have every option available when selecting what you want to wear.

Pearls and opals draw moisture from the air, so storing your opal or pearl jewellery in a dry area, such as a safe deposit box, can sometimes do more harm than good.

When travelling, protect your jewellery pieces from scratches or other impact damage by padding them in a separate box or case.

Many jewellery stores offer free check-up or professional cleaning at scheduled intervals: Jewellery should be checked every six months and cleaned frequently. Look for a jeweller with professional training and a good reputation – asking friends or relatives for recommendations is a good place to start. GIA’s Retailer Lookup can help locate a jeweller in your area who has GIA trained associates on its staff.

Planning a getaway? Read our 10 tips for packing jewellery for travel.